After arriving in France, from our train ride under the English Channel, our first stop was a little bit out of the way but we knew it was a must-visit: the Wimereux Communal Cemetery which is the resting place of Lt.-Col. John McCrae. After visiting his family home in Guelph, ON and the dressing station in Belgium where he wrote his famous poem, In Flanders Fields, it seemed only fitting that we also take a little of the time on our trip to visit the cemetery where he is now buried.
The little town of Wimereux is about 5 km north of Boulogne and served several purposes during both World Wars. During WWI it was the headquarters of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps. and in 1919 it became General Headquarters of the British Army. From October 1914, Boulogne and Wimereux were important hospital centers and the medical units used the cemetery to bury the servicemen until it became full in June 1918.
During WWII the British Rear Headquarters were set up in Wimereux for a few days prior to the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk during Operation Dynamo. It then fell into German hands until September 22, 1914 when it was retaken by the Canadian 1st Army.
Read More: Operation Dynamo at Dover Castle
The son of Colonel David and Janet McCrae, Lt.-Col. John McCrae was born in 1872 and lived in a little home in Guelph, ON. He started writing poetry when he was in university, but only his poem In Flanders Fields became well known.
Stationed at a field dressing station on the main road between Ypres and Boezinge next to a local farm – nicknamed Essex Farm– he was inspired to write the poem as he treated the injured and dying French soldiers during the gas attacks in 1915. It is also thought the death of one of his friends, a fellow soldier, was the ultimate inspiration.
In 1918, at the age of 45, he was given a post as consultant to all British Armies in France, but due to complications with his asthma he developed pneumonia and died just a few days later.
Today his poem lives on, especially around Remembrance Day, when each year on November 11th we take time to remember the injured and fallen soldiers.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The Commonwealth War Graves are situated at the rear of the Wimereux Communal Cemetery with the headstones uniquely placed flat on the graves due to the sandy soil.
The cemetery contains 2,847 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, two of them unidentified. There are also five French and a plot of 170 German war graves. The cemetery also contains 14 Second World War burials, six of them unidentified.
Open daily: 1 Nov to 31 Mar 0800-1700 and from 1 Apr to 31 Oct 0800 -1900
Directions: From the centre of Boulogne take the A16 to Calais and exit at junction 33. Follow the D242 into Wimereux and at the first roundabout in town, take the third exit, continuing on the D242 and after approximately 200 yards, turn left into a one way road. The Cemetery lies at the end of this road.
To read more about the sites we visited on our Western Front Trip, please feel free to check out these posts: